Every parent strives to keep their children safe and healthy. I know I do. We want to provide opportunities for our children to make friends, try new things, and grow. But, many well-intentioned parents cross the line from providing and encouraging to hovering and controlling. Parents often cross this line accidentally, unknowing even, and in response to fears, anxieties, or sensitivities. When that line is crossed, our children suffer. Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, completed a study following 422 children over an 8-year period. Her team assessed the children at ages 2, 5, and 10. The assessments included observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses, and self-reports from the 10-year-olds. When parents were assessed as hovering (aka, “helicopter parents”), the children were more likely to develop emotional and behavioral regulation difficulties. The inability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors contributed to poorer social skills as well. What did a “hovering” parent do while interacting with their children? What made them “hovering” parents (3 Signs You Are A Helicopter Parent)? Well, rather than letting their children pick out a toy and play, “hovering” parents told their children what to play with and how to play with it. For instance, they might take over the controls for the video game to show their child how to complete a level, leaving their child to sit passively by and watch. Or, they might explain that tree leaves are green, not purple, and expect the child to color them green because that is more accurate. It’s all done to teach…but it interferes with their children’s opportunities to explore, learn from mistakes, and “think independently.” Hovering parents also told their children how to clean up rather than simply encouraging their children to clean up (or better yet clean up with them). They often exhibited strict or demanding behaviors during play interactions, such as demanding the play proceed in a certain order rather than following their children’s lead or negotiating. Compared to children of parents who did not hover, children of “hovering” parents exhibited difficulties self-regulating emotions and behaviors. So, what can a parent do to “not hover” and still teach? To encourage a growing ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors? Good question. Try some of these tips.
- Talk about feelings and what behaviors might flow from various feelings. Help your children develop a vocabulary for emotions and a behavioral repertoire for managing those emotions. (Read 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend for ideas to help you do this.)
- Follow child’s lead in play. Spend at least part of your time with children simply following their lead. Acknowledge their actions and report those actions. Doing so communicates as sense of value to your children. It also increases the likelihood that they will follow your lead as well. So, don’t take the controller to let them watch you beat the level on the video game. Instead, let them experiment and simply report back what they did along with the results. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children describes a great way to do this!)
- Negotiate the play. I know this sounds contradictory to the last bullet, but both are true. Sometimes we need to follow our children’s lead in play. Sometimes we need to negotiate the play with our children. Negotiating play teaches our children the skill of cooperation and compromise. It lets them learn that they don’t always get what they want…which in turn increases frustration tolerance. (Sometimes negotiation goes beyond playing. Check out 4 Benefits of Negotiating with Your Child to learn more.)
- Give your children chores. Teach them what needs done but allow them the freedom to achieve it in their way. They may choose to do it the hard way. Let them. They may take twice as long to do it. That’s ok. As long as they get the job done well, be happy.
- Send them out to play with friends. Let them engage in unstructured, unsupervised play. They will learn amazing self-regulation skills while negotiating, compromising, and enjoying play with other children. (Give them the tools right out of Your Child’s Toolbox for Play.)
- Set good example. Let your children see you manage anger and frustration well. Let them see you express joy and sorrow in healthy, appropriate ways. After all, our children learn best by watching us. So, set a good example. And start that example with having fun!